Kærlighed: What Would a Kierkegaardian Tinder Look Like?

Jayan Luharia - Oct. 21, 2023 - 5 min read - #Philosophy

Although not quite a household name like philosopher titans such as Aristotle or Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard's expansive influence on modern philosophy should not be overlooked: this is a man who influenced the acclaimed existential writer Franz Kafka, the mentally troubled creator of the "Kafkaesque" (referring to harrowing social situations in which an individual feels a sense of oppression and uncomfortability under the weight of the bureaucratic system and the like). He also influenced the painter of perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of modern art ever: the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch who crafted "The Scream", as well as countless other dramatic masterpieces that innately conjure a sense of dread. 

However, the Kierkegaardian influence is more than just an exploration of anxiety and dread. 

In 1837, at the age of 24, Søren Kierkegaard was to meet the fifteen-year-old Regine Olsen, his future lover. Regine recalled the strong impression that Kierkegaard left on her, whilst under the tutorage of her husband-to-be, Johan Frederik Schlegel. Rather quickly, a mutual infatuation developed between Søren and Regine, however this love wasn't to last. In 1841, the troubled Kierkegaard broke up his engagement to the then nineteen-year-old, aware of his unsuitability as a husband...

This strange circumstance deserves to be explored and to be understood. It is thus that we look to 1847, when Kierkegaard published "Works of Love" whilst living in Copenhagen, Denmark. The very nature of this book was subversive and shocking for the current European audience of the time, whom, according to Kierkegaard, had developed an idea of love very much centred around romantic love. The kind of love we feel when in the presence of someone good looking, clever, exciting or successful. It was on this ground that Kierkegaard challenged the general perception of love as being this preferential experience in which criteria are applied to partners before determining their compatibility. Rather, he adamantly held on to the Christian view that we should love everyone, even those that we consider unworthy of our love. Even the people that we hate or the people that don't like us. For loving everyone without judgement is what Kierkegaard deemed to be "true love".

At this stage, it is important to distinguish between the two types of "love" that Kierkegaard outlines: "kærlighed" and "elskov". Kærlighed is this idea of non-preferential true love: loving everyone despite all of their flaws and imperfections, which contrasts to elskov, which is the previously discussed idea of erotic, preferential love. To Kierkegaard, kærlighed is the pinnacle of humanity and the ultimate practice. When focusing on its application in the real world, kærlighed would reframe the current judicial narrative that underpins our society: everyone receives exactly what they deserve. In other words, justice. Justice, to Kierkegaard, isn't the correct basis on which to build community and society. Instead, Kierkegaard suggests that the focus shifts to providing every individual with the kindness that they inherently need. 

Now, it is worth addressing the title. What would a Kierkegaardian dating site look like? If Tinder was completely redesigned under Søren's ownership, how would the world of digital pairing and matchmaking change? Arguably, instead of the "swipe left or swipe right" mechanism that encourages our exacting and prejudicial values, Kierkegaard's Tinder would most likely generate matches with random candidates, regardless of their virtues, aesthetic or race. This is because, to Kierkegaard, shared humanity is the only basis on which love shall grow. It is also probable that there would be no such thing as a Kierkegaardian Tinder - even if he was alive and kicking today, as, from his perspective, we should love those that we can actually see in our day-to-day lives, rather than "invisible beings". This idea of invisible beings is relevant today still, with many people developing "love" for people that they encounter online. 

In a time in which the sexualisation and romanticisation of love is at an all-time high, it may be worth reflecting on, regardless of whether we agree or not with his fundamental opinion here, the necessity for love in a wider context. Christ's disciple Peter wasn't told to change first and then become another man. Rather, it was through love itself that he would be enabled to become another man.